If you have been reading our reviews concerning DVD video cameras, you would have noticed we think the software accompanying them is, generally, not up to the mark. Frank McLeod thinks he may have found a solution.
Most MiniDV cameras come with at least a ‘light’ or ‘Special Edition’ version of one of the more common entry level video editing packages but this has been patently lacking with DVD cameras.Â Indeed, many commentators believe this lack of any degree of sophistication in the editing software is a major drawback in this style of camera. I for one have advised newbie videographers to leave them alone for that very reason, believing they are likely to come up against the editing limitations associated with the provided software and be stymied in their development of the interest. Womble may have changed my mind in all of this.
When digital video is captured from a MiniDV camera each frame contains the complete information relating to the image on that frame – objects, colours, movement etc. This requires a lot of data to be encoded for that frame. In attempting to reduce the amount of information needed to be contained in the video file, the people who designed the MPEG format decided not to duplicate any information that did not change from frame to frame. The information about unchanging aspects of the image is not repeated when and wherever possible. As a consequence, all frames in MPEG are not equal in size but overall file size is markedly smaller.
To achieve an acceptable output of video images, MPEG files have three frame types:
- The I-, or, Index frame contains all the information for that frame and acts as a repository of information for the stable bits of the following frame/s;
- The P-frame contains the best guess in regards to the data which is likely to occur in the frames following an I-frame; and finally
- The B-frame is a bit of an each way bet. In MPEG compression, it is a seriously compressed, ‘looks both ways’ frame that records the change that occurred between the I-frame before and the I-frame after that particular B-frame.
As a result, when you import an MPEG file into most standard editing programs (assuming you can as not all applications support this), problems occur for two main reasons. The first is the fact that, when you trim a clip, your software might cut out an index file and so you lose valuable data about the images dependent on that frame. Applying effects and transitions can have a similar effect here as well.Â Secondly, after finishing your edit, a lot of software will subsequently want to render the project, thus recompressing already compressed MPEG files which again results in the loss of data and image quality.
Available only by download, there is a range of versions of Womble. The flagship version we reviewed has DVD authoring built-in, although as the blurb states, this is at a non-commercial level. The developers of Womble claim “frame accurate editing, fastest scrubbing of any MPEG editor, fastest frame stepping and no re-encoding when editing”. Also listed among Womble’s strengths is an ‘extensive’ transition library with ‘simple controls’ and a flexible window configuration. Womble has an extensive box of first aid tools for manipulating the mechanics of MPEG files including a GOP fixer, a multiplexer and a demultiplexer which, apart from splitting audio and video into elementary streams, can also be used to correct synchronisation errors. There is also an MPEG converter, for changing from one MPEG stream format to another.
While initially appearing to be quite familiar to other editing packages, on closer inspection Womble shows a rather quirky approach to layout (see Image 1). This could be a drawback to many users as the whole idea of the Windows ‘look’ is to have a standardised interface that is easy to learn. Those who ‘play’ with this do so at their peril, as Ulead, Kai and others have found in the past.
Image 1: the free floating toolbar and the default settings of the main displays
While the general appearance of the whole program can be modified by using presets or by ‘unbinding windows’ after clicking the Component button on the Toolbar (see Image 2), it is too far removed from the true Windows interface to be a positive. Additionally, and I found this frustrating at times, after you turn on Tool Tips which are ‘off’ by default, only those functions available at the time will provide information in the tip balloon. That sent me back to the Help files more than I liked.
Image 2: the toolbar has some non-intuitive symbols on its buttons
Clips and other assets are imported into the File section of the Project Manager and then selected and dragged to the Timeline singly or as a group. Clips are given a colour which seems to have no other benefit than to distinguish one from another. Clips can be rearranged by clicking a Snowflake icon and then selecting them and dragging them. Any gaps can be automatically cleared by right clicking the track control panel at the left end of the timeline and choosing ‘Delete all gaps’.
Trimming is achieved by selecting a clip and scrubbing to the point at which you wish to cut, then selecting the Scissor icon from the right hand panel of icons.Â You can undo this feature using the Undo/Redo arrows in the same panel.
One point of note is that any sound editing to be done on the video track has to be completed before the introduction of transitions.
Womble has its own somewhat quirky naming convention for transitions (eg. Blend is more commonly called Crossfade in other packages) which takes some experimentation to work out. Any of the 2-D or 3-D transitions are inserted by simply dragging it from the Project area onto the timeline over the point of contact of two clips. (See Image 3) Certain modifications can be made to transitions by double clicking its icon or by right clicking on the transition zone and using the options/menus then available.
Image 3: Blend=Crossfade and is simply dragged and dropped onto the timeline from its folder under Effects
Filters are handled in a similar way and their addition to a clip is indicated by a small symbol inserted into the clip’s box on the timeline. (Image 4). To remove a filter, right click the clip, select Video/Filter and simply delete the offending item. Filters can be stacked as necessary.
Image 4: The symbol indicating a filter has been applied to a clip
DVD creation is simple and straightforward. As in all aspects of Womble, the Help file is easily accessible and well indexed and will guide you through any task with ease, once you are used to the interface.
Womble is limited in many ways, but when restricted to what it does, it does it better than many other programs around. It lost me to some extent by being ‘different’ seemingly just for the sake of being different, so it is not surprising that some things I missed included the lack of Windows keyboard shortcuts, the option of viewing in a filmstrip and wave-form display on the timeline and the inability to easily split video and audio.
Certainly you could use Womble MPEG Wizard DVD to take the output from a DVD or HDD camera and turn it into a respectable presentation, including title, filters, transitions, music and DVD creation while being confident that the images would not degrade by repeated compression. However, if it was a contest between the output of a DVD/HDD camera using Womble MPEG Wizard DVD and that of a MiniDV camera using any of the well-known entry-level editing suites, then it would be no competition.